Monday, October 28, 2013

Talking Old Hollywood: Christina Rice, Ann Dvorak Biographer


Ann Dvorak biographer, Christina Rice

As much as I love stars like Cary Grant or Marilyn Monroe I am not on the edge of my seat waiting for the next biography to be written on their lives. Especially when there are so many well deserving classic Hollywood stars who have yet to receive a well written full length biography. That's why I'm so excited for the upcoming biography on the elegant and sometimes sultry, pre-Code actress, Ann Dvorak. Thankfully for all of us classic Hollywood geeks, librarian and Ann Dvorak collector turned biographer, Christina Rice, has taken it upon herself to write the first full length biography on this forgotten actress. The book, aptly titled Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel, will be released on November 4, 2013.

In this installment of Talking Old Hollywood, Rice discusses her process for putting the biography together, Ann Dvorak related Los Angeles locations and how she would spend a day with Ann Dvorak.

DOH: What turned you on to Ann Dvorak as a subject for a biography?

CR: I first discovered Ann when I was an undergrad in the mid-1990s after I checked out a VHS copy of Three on a Match from my local library. I had never heard of Ann at the time and was blindsided by her performance.  I subsequently stumbled upon her in Scarface and G Men and wanted to know why this beautiful and talented actress had not been a major star. It didn't take long for me to realize that she was a not a likely subject to be tackled by anyone else, so at some point I figured - why not me? 

DOH: At what point did you go from Ann Dvorak collector to pursuing writing Ann’s biography?

CR: Another part of Ann's allure for me was that no one was collecting on her. I have been a compulsive collector since birth and always thought it would be cool to own theater-used movie posters. When I found out that I could actually afford gorgeous 1930s posters from Ann's films, I was sunk. 

Immediately after I started collecting, which was around 2 1/2 years after that first viewing of Three on a Match, I decided I would write the book on Ann. However, that is easier said than done. My first five years as Ann Dvorak's biographer mainly consisted of hitting the poster shops, paper shows, and scouring the Internet for memorabilia. I was finding lots of ephemera which sometimes contained information about her, but it wasn't real research. 

When I started grad school in 2001 to get my Master's of Library & Information Science, I started to get a better grasp on the research I was going to need to do in order to tell the story of this actress who retired relatively early, had no children, no siblings, was fairly reclusive, and did not donate personal papers to an institution. 

Once I got serious about the project, I visited the University of Southern California (USC) who has the Warner Bros. production and legal files. Handling these primary source documents relating to Ann, which painted a very vivid portrait of her struggles with the studio was exhilarating and a shot in the arm. After that, I launched the website (www.anndvorak.com) and forged ahead with the research. Of course I was doing this while working full time and in grad school, so it was never a quick process. 



DOH: As a mother and someone who has a full time job, did this impact your ability to research and write the book? How did you find the time?! Did you have a specific research and writing strategy?

CR: My daughter was born in June 2010, and by that time I had been doing the heavy research for around eight years and was mostly done with everything but the actual writing. 

The birth of my daughter actually proved to be a major catalyst to finish it. I had started the writing in late 2008 and two years later had only completed around five chapters. I admit to dragging my feet and finding excuses NOT to write, and one of my main problems is that I was trying to make the first draft a final draft, which was foolish. I was spending so much time fact-checking and looking for citations that it would take an hour to write a paragraph and that lack of progress was discouraging. 

Once I returned to work from maternity leave, I was struck with the brutal realization that I literally had no time to write and that I had previously wasted so much time! I knew I either had to go on the Ann Dvorak website and make a formal announcement that the book was indefinitely on hold, or figure out a way to write it without sacrificing time with my family. 

I take the subway to work from North Hollywood, so I started writing on the train which gave me around 40 minutes of undisturbed time roundtrip, along with another hour on my lunch break. I stopped trying to write a final draft and just started writing. I knew Ann so well by then that there was no reason I could not knock out the bare bones of her story. I made so much progress in a couple of months that it really fueled me to keep going. At this point, my complete lack of time has trained me to be able to start writing on a moment's notice and make the most of every spare minute. The second that kid goes down for a nap, I am typing away! 

My other motivation was that I wanted something tangible for my daughter to be proud of. My husband is a full-time writer who already has a substantial body of published works, but I wanted my daughter to one-day realize that Mom is pretty cool too. In all honesty, without that kid appearing in my life, I don't think the book would be anywhere near completion. 

DOH: Did you find working at the Los Angeles Central Library gave you some advantages in researching Ann’s life?

CR: Oh absolutely! During the first six months I worked at Central, I spent my lunch break everyday sitting on the microfilm readers pouring over all the old Los Angeles newspapers, most of which have not yet been digitized. The book collection at Central Library is so vast that I would sometimes go to the section of film biographies and just browse the shelves looking for memoirs written by her costars. Additionally, I always have access to certain resources like the digitized Los Angeles Times or Ancestry.com, so whenever a hot new lead sprung up, I was able to act on it immediately. 

I work in the History & Genealogy Department, so the nature of the job helped me understand how to effectively research real estate, court documents, and vital records, all of which I used for Ann. 

Finally, I was able to benefit from the knowledge of my colleagues. At Central Library, there are multiple subject departments and the librarians are well versed in their areas. So, whenever I hit a brick wall, I would usually be able to tap into their expertise. 

DOH: Was there any resource you discovered that was particularly helpful in providing information on Ann’s life? A manuscript? A specific person?

CR: As I mentioned before, the Warner Bros documents at USC revealed a lot about Ann's attitude towards the studio and vice versa. 

Fortunately, I acquired some collections of letters written by Ann and her mother in the 1960s. These were especially insightful about the difficulties Ann had in an abusive marriage. More recently, I purchased Ann's journal which only has a lone entry from 1977, but she sums up her feelings about her life, career, and decisions, which are insights I never thought I would have access to. 



DOH: I’m sure with each passing year that it is more and more difficult to find people that would have known Ann and could provide information on her life. Were you able to interview anyone that might have known Ann?

CR: Oy! Finding people who knew Ann was the single hardest aspect of researching this book. As I mentioned before, Ann did not have any children or siblings, outlived all three husbands, and was very private. I'm not sure there is anyone still out there who knew her well enough to really comment on her. Plus, she retired fairly early. I contacted a handful of costars, but they did not have much to say, primarily because they worked with Ann for a very short period of time on insignificant films over 50 years ago. 

I found a handful of people who encountered her and one fellow who hung out with her towards the end of her life, so I do have some firsthand recollections though they do not give the insight that a child or close friend would have. 

I was very insecure about the minimal people I interviewed, but I ended up acquiring so many primary source documents with Ann speaking for herself that I ultimately think those are more powerful than anyone I could have interviewed. 

DOH: Are there any questions you wish you could ask Ann directly to fill in some blanks in her life story?

CR: I would ask if walking out on her Warner Bros. contract to go on a honeymoon was worth it. 

DOH: What was the most interesting or surprising thing you learned about Ann?

CR: Even though Ann's formal education was limited, she was a very cultured and educated person who was multilingual and very interested in history and science. In the 1960s, she wrote an 18 volume history of the world and made an audio book out of it! 

I was also very taken with her time spent in Europe during World War II. From early on, I was aware that she followed her British-born husband to England in 1940 after he enlisted in the Royal Navy, but I never really stopped to consider what that really meant. Her war-time experiences were so fascinating that I ended up devoting two chapters to that time period. 

DOH: Are there any myths about Ann you found to by false?

CR: Oh, there are a handful of "facts" that frequently get tossed around that are inaccurate. First off, she was born in 1911 not 1912. I'm under the impression that Ann thought she was born in 1912 and eventually discovered otherwise - I think the inaccuracy can be attributed to her mother, Anna Lehr, who so frequently lied about her own age that she probably got confused about Ann's at some point. 

Ann's 1932 walk out is frequently attributed to her finding out that the child actor who played her son in Three on a Match was paid as much as she was. I'm sure she was riled by this, but there were many other prevailing factors that played into that decision, which I spend a lot of time covering in the book. 

Ann sometimes is described as having served out her Warner Bros. contract on suspension, which also isn't true. She was on a long term suspension, but after she lost her court case against them, she did make two more films before being released from her contract. 

Finally, Ann was not one of the original Goldwyn Girls. 

DOH: What was the most difficult part in putting together the biography? Is there anything you would do differently?

CR: First off, I would pick someone with personal papers or living relatives! Ann left so little of herself behind that her story proved to be a massive jigsaw puzzle. 

When I first started on this quest, it was the early days of the Internet, so information had to be found using "old school" methods which I wasn't necessarily well versed in. Now, we're in a golden age of researching where even if something isn't digitized, it's much easier to figure out what institutions might have particular items. So, starting a book now instead of 1998 is a huge advantage. 

With Ann, the book turned out just as I wanted it to, and it was an amazing journey so I would not change any of it. At the same time, I would never undertake a project as difficult as this again!

Ann Dvorak


DOH: If someone is unfamiliar with Ann Dvorak, which of her films do you recommend they watch first?

CR: I would say Scarface is a must because it's arguably her best and most important film. Three on a Match is one of her most memorable films and performances. I have a personal preference for Heat Lightning, even though she has a relatively small role in it. The Strange Love of Molly Louvain is not the strongest pre-Code, but it's one of Ann's few starring roles and it's also the film where she fell in love with co-star Leslie Fenton, who she subsequently married, which makes their scenes together quite meaningful. From her later career, I personally like Private Affairs of Bel Ami, and I recommend watching the 10 or so minutes of screen time Ann has in A Life of Her Own, though the rest of the film is a bit hard to get through. 

DOH: You had mentioned that you were involved with Last Remaining Seats, the Los Angeles Conservancy’s classic movie screenings in historic downtown theatres. Would you organize a screening around Ann? What film and what theatre would you choose?

CR: Back before I became a mom, I was an active volunteer with the Conservancy and helped plan the Last Remaing Seats, including film selection. In 2007, we actually did screen Scarface at the Alex Theater in Glendale. It was a wonderful evening and a bunch of friends showed up, so Ann had a whole cheering section. At that time, there were at least 30 volunteers involved with the film selection and most of them were movie buffs with strong opinions about what to screen, so successfully pitching Scarface was a major accomplishment! As I mentioned before, Scarface is Ann's most notable film and the best candidate to fill a movie palace, so it's probably the only time one of her films will be shown as part of LRS. 

But, if I had my way, I would screen a Three on a Match/Heat Lightning pre-Code double feature at the Palace Theatre, where Ann's mom performed in 1914 when it was an Orpheum Theatre.  

DOH: Did you say you were also a docent for the LA Conservancy? So you did some of the downtown LA tours? What was a Christina tour like?

CR: Yes, I used to give tours of the historic theatres on Broadway in downtown and it definitely was infused with as much Ann Dvorak as possible! Included on my tour was; the Cameo Thetare, built by William H. Clune who produced the 1916 version of Ramona which was where Ann made her film debut at age four, I already mentioned the Palace/Orpheum theatre where her mom performed on a vaudeville tour, I would also point out that Ann possibly performed onstage at the State Theatre when she was an MGM chorus girl (yeah, that was a stretch), and the tours would end at the Warner Downtown which is where Ann's Warner films would have played in the 1930s. Ending the tour here allowed me to plug my website. One fellow took my tour and later contacted me through the Ann-D website, and we're still very close friends. 

DOH: I’ve been enjoying your Ann’s Los Angeles series on your blog where you’ve been highlighting LA locations significant to Ann’s life. Are there any Ann landmarks that still exist that you get particularly excited about?

CR: Most of Ann's residences are still around, so it's always a kick to be able to drive by them. The most significant Ann-D landmark is the ranch house she built in 1934 with Leslie Fenton. She lived there until 1944, which was by far, the longest she ever lived anywhere. I have a lot of photos of Ann on this property, so it was a huge relief when I realized it was still standing.  

DOH: While we’re on the subject of landmarks, you wrote on your blog that you were married at one of Ann’s former homes. How did you make that happen?

CR: Yes, I was able to hold my wedding and reception at the ranch house I mentioned above. The property was originally a large walnut ranch, which Ann subdivided after she and Leslie Fenton separated. What remains is two acres with all the structures of the property intact, including the main house, garage with servants quarters, pool and pool house, greenhouse, and cow stables. It's all set off from the street and not visible, so for years I assumed the house had been demolished. 

When I finally figured out that the house was still there, I sent an email to the owner asking if I could visit. As it turned out, the man who owned the place bought it in 1959 and had corresponded with Ann in the 1960s. When I first visited, he gave me all the letters. He loved the property and was thrilled to spend time with someone who loved it as much as him. 

When I got engaged a few months later, I asked if we could have the wedding there, and he readily agreed. Obviously, it was a dream come true and there was no where else in the world I would have rather spent that day. 

DOH: Clearly your husband understood your Ann obsession from the beginning?

CR: Oh yes! There was never any question that he would have to share me with Ann. I have been collecting on Ann for over 15 years and have hundreds of movie posters, many of which are hanging up in our home. At one point I was dating a guy who commented that if we ever lived together, I would need to limit the amount of Ann-D posters on display. The relationship ended soon after that! Josh always appreciated the posters from the get-go, so I knew he was a keeper. At this point though, I'm sure he's pretty happy that the book is finally written.   



DOH: If you and Ann were going to have a girls day/night out in Los Angeles, where would you go and what would you do?

CR: Ann was never one to dwell on her past, so I would not bother re-visting any of her old haunts. I would give her a tour of Central Library because I think she would have been interested in some of the collections, particularly the older volumes and manuscripts in the Rare Books department. I would imagine she could have spent a few hours in there! Ann was a fairly serious person, though I think she had a dry sense of humor, so I would take her for a pass through the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City. Finally, dinner somewhere in Malibu would be appropriate. She lived there for a number of years, and even though she'd probably be appalled by all the development, she was such a beach nut that I could not imagine not visiting the Pacific with Ann.  

DOH: When the book comes out in November, is there anything in particular you hope readers will learn about Ann?

CR:  hope they'll get a sense of what a dynamic person she was – much more than just a pretty face. Ann tended to be interested in so many different things that she never really focused on one, which is one of many reasons why her career suffered. I also hope she will get credit for battling Warner Bros. in court in 1936 and paving the way for James Cagney and Bette Davis who also filed suits that year, but after Ann. 

DOH: Thanks so much! I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy.

CR: Thank YOU for being such an advocate for this project over the years. The waiting is almost over! 

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On Tuesday, November 12, 2013, the Los Angeles Central Library will be hosting an Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel release party. Food prepared from Ann Dvorak recipes will be served, Ann-D memorabilia will be on display, and Rice will be on hand to sign copies of her book. Visit the Los Angeles Public Library website for full details.

Visit Christina's website dedicated to Ann Dvorak here.

Previously covered on Dear Old Hollywood: Ann Dvorak filming locations for COLLEGE COACH (1933).

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) - Film Locations


As far fetched as the story may be, the film The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) is nevertheless an interesting twist on the popular gangster pictures Warner Bros. was pumping out during the 1930s. The superb Edward G. Robinson plays the title role of Dr. Clitterhouse, a well respected doctor who believes that to really understand the criminal mind, one must become a criminal himself. Robinson teams up with a local gang headed by Rocks Valentine, played by Humphrey Bogart who was still a rising star trying to get beyond gangster roles. Robinson uses his brilliance to mastermind a big heist and in the process studies the criminals he is working with. The observations Robinson makes are invaluable to his research but things get a little hairy when Bogart starts to feel Robinson, with his smarts, may displace him as leader of the gang. Robinson may have immersed himself a little too much into his research.

There are very few exterior scenes in the film. Most of the action takes place on interior sets, including the rooms of the gangster headquarters, a home of a mansion, the medical office of Dr. Clitterhouse and a police station, all of which would have been built inside soundstages on the Warner Bros. lot. There are two noticeable exterior scenes. One is a quick shot near the beginning of the film of a car driving through town on the way to the mansion where a robbery was committed. The second is the scene where Robinson leads the gang on a heist at a fur factory. Both exterior scenes were filmed at the same location of the Warner Bros. backlot in the area known as Embassy Courtyard/New York Park.

Click images to see larger.

A car passes a court house style building on the Warner Bros. backlot.

Embassy Courtyard/New York Park on the Warner Bros. backlot.

In the scene above from the beginning of the film we see a car driving pass two facades that are still recognizable as buildings in the Embassy Courtyard/New York Park area of the Warner Bros. backlot. The facades are slightly changed, as over the years some facades were rebuilt due to fires that occurred on the Warner Bros. lot and because of revisions made to the facades from film project to film project, but we can still identify the basic structures.

The scene immediately below is a continuation from the scene above and shows the car passing from the Embassy Courtyard area of the backlot and continuing into New York Street.

The car continues from Embassy Courtyard into New York Street.

The facade from the scene above as it appears now.

The car passes another facade heading into New York Street.

The same facades moving into New York Street as they appear now.

The below scene is of the fur factory where Robinson and gang pull a heist. The location is the same as the very first scene above, only the camera is located further back giving us a wider perspective of the location. As you can see, the film crew used a matte painting in the background to create the illusion of a big city. The buildings on the right are the facades that are still recognizable today. The court house style building can be seen at the very edge. The facades on the left used as the fur factory building are now the site of a small park space.

The location of the fur factory where Robinson leads a heist.

The same view as it appears today.

A closeup view of the Fur Building.

The Fur Building is now the site of a park space.

A Bing Bird's Eye view of the Embassy Courtyard and park.

This same area of green space has been used to stand in for New York's Central Park and has recently been used as a park in the current television show, The Big Bang Theory. You can see it in the clip below from Episode 6 of Season 3, "The Cornhusker Vortex," where the cast is scene flying kites. The park appears about one minute in.


The park appears in this clip from The Big Bang Theory.

The same area of the Embassy Square, particularly the section where the court house style facade stands, has been covered here on Dear Old Hollywood previously in posts on Nickelodeon (1976), Sex and the Single Girl (1964), and The Omega Man (1971).

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse was directed by Anatole Litvak and in addition to Robinson and Bogey, also stars Claire Trevor, Allen Jenkins, Donald Crisp, Gale Page, Henry O'Neill, John Litel, Thurston Hall, Ward Bond and Max 'Slapsie Maxie' Rosenbloom. The screen play was written by John Wexley and John Huston and was based on an earlier stage play. The film is available on DVD, can be rented through ClassicFlix and Netflix,  as well as streamed on Warner Archive Instant.

Images (c) 2013 Warner Bros., Bing Bird's Eye View (c) 2013 Microsoft Corporation Pictometry Bird's Eye (c) 2013 Pictometry International Corp.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Racket (1951) - Film Locations




Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan, two classic Hollywood heavyweights, go head to head in the noir The Racket (1951). Ryan is a violent crime boss trying to elect a crooked prosecutor to a judgeship by using his corrupt methods. Mitchum is a police captain who wants to bring Ryan and his racket down.   Although the cinematography is not quite as dramatic as some top notch noirs, the strong cast do an excellent job of pushing this crime story along at an active pace. In addition to the superb Ryan and Mitchum, the cast includes other recognizable noir performers such as Lizabeth Scott, Ray Collins, Don Porter, and William Conrad.

The Racket was produced by Howard Hughes when he headed RKO Studios. It was a remake of a film he had produced in 1929 which was an adaptation of a stage play starring Edward G. Robinson and John Cromwell. Hughes selected Cromwell to direct the 1951 film version but was ultimately disappointed with Cromwell's direction. Hughes then brought in director Nicholas Ray to fix the picture. Additionally, Sherman Todd and Tay Garnett were also brought in to film some scenes. Despite a slew of directors and an interfering producer like Hughes, The Racket turned out pretty well.

I don't recall the city is ever named in the film, but I get the impression the story is supposed to be set in New York City. However, filming was actually done in California in downtown Los Angeles, Culver City and Encino. There is even one location with a connection to the popular classic film, It's a Wonderful Life (1946) - keep reading to find out.

Note: Click images to see larger.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES

In this first location a man is killed in a parking lot that was once located on Wilshire Boulevard a couple blocks west of Grand Avenue. As you will see in the next few scene comparisons there are a few structures from the time of the film that are still standing, but overall, this area has vastly changed. The parking lot and the buildings that stood right next to the parking lot are now demolished but the buildings that we see in the background when looking in the direction of Grand Avenue are still there.

Looking down Wilshire Blvd towards Grand Ave.

Looking east from Grand Ave near Wilshire.

The building in green in the background outlined in the purple box is the Los Angeles Jewelery Center located at 629 Hill Street. It's a twelve-story office building that was built in 1930. The building located on the far right of the above image stands on Grand Avenue where Wilshire Boulevard dead ends. You can see more of this building in the below screenshot.

A view of Grand Avenue in background.

Looking at Grand Ave from Wilshire Blvd.

The next screenshot is a closeup of the parking lot where the man is murdered. The parking lot and the building in the background were located behind what was then Dawson's book store. Dawson's used to be at 627 South Grand Avenue at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard. To give a better idea of how this area once looked, below the screenshot of the parking lot there is a vintage photo from 1952 from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) photo collection showing the view of Dawson's book store, the parking lot (see the green box) and the building just behind the parking lot. Today this location is the site of modern glass office towers as can be seen in the contemporary view.

Car lot on Wilshire Blvd one block west from Grand Ave.

Looking west down Wilshire from Grand ca. 1952. Car lot can be seen in the green square. Dawson's book store is on the corner. Photo: LAPL

Contemporary view looking west down Wilshire from Grand.

When some of the crooks are driving downtown they come to a stop at the intersection of 7th Street and Flower Street. In the screenshot below where the traffic officer is helping pedestrians cross the street we get a view looking down 7th Street from the intersection at Flower Street. Although the buildings immediately on the right of the screenshot are demolished the building on the left (in the yellow box) is still standing, as are some other buildings in the background.

Looking down 7th Street from Flower Street.

Looking down 7th Street from Flower Street.

The "7th District Police Station" was really the Los Angeles Central Division Police Station which was located at 318 West 1st Street. Although this building was demolished long ago, I recognized the stonework entrance from digging through old photos for another project. In the next three images we see 1) a screenshot of Ryan entering the police station, 2) an LAPL photo from 1936 showing a full shot of the Central Division Police Station and how it once looked, and 3) a contemporary view of the corner of 1st Street and Hill Street revealing the vacant lot where the police station once stood.

Ryan enters the Central Division station at 318 W. 1st St.

Central Division police station 1936. Photo: LAPL

318 W. 1st Street. Central Division demolished.

In the scene where Ryan enters the police station below, we get a glimpse of the Hill Street Tunnel in the background. The Hill Street Tunnel was made up of two tunnels that at one time allowed trolleys and automobiles to enter/exit downtown Los Angeles. This view is of the south side of the Hill Street Tunnel. In another noir, Criss Cross (1949) starring Burt Lancaster, Yvonne DeCarlo and Dan Duryea, we get a view of the north end of the Hill Street Tunnel. A few years after the making of The Racket the Hill Street Tunnel and the surrounding buildings would be demolished for future developments.

Ryan enters the Central Division Station.  The edge of the Hill Street Tunnel can be seen in the background.

Hill Street Tunnels being deconstructed in 1955. Photo: LAPL

Contemporary view of Hill Street from 1st Street. Tunnels demolished.

This last downtown Los Angeles location is just another view of 1st Street outside of the Central Division Police Station. This view is of 1st Street looking in the direction of Broadway. You can see from the comparison below that the buildings on the right towards the front are all demolished, however, in the background we get a glimpse of the historic Los Angeles Times Building which is still standing. When the Los Angeles Times Building opened in 1935 it was the largest building in the western U.S. designed and occupied entirely for the purpose of a daily newspaper publishing operation.

Looking down 1st Street towards Broadway. The Los Angeles Times building can be seen in the background on the right.

Looking down 1st St. towards Broadway. LA Times building still standing.

The It's a Wonderful Life (1946) connection. 
THE RKO ENCINO RANCH

During one scene Mitchum visits the home of a friend and warns him not to cause trouble in his precinct. As Mitchum leaves the home a bomb explodes on the front porch. At first I had no idea where this home might be located, but I figured as this was an RKO film, that maybe they might have filmed the scene on their ranch property out in Encino. Eventually I found a screenshot from that popular film starring Jimmy Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life, on the amazing website Retro Web, and I recognized a few details from the house used in It's a Wonderful Life as being the same in the house used in The Racket. It's already known that It's a Wonderful Life was filmed on the RKO Encino Ranch so now I can confirm that The Racket also filmed on the RKO Encino Ranch. The home used in The Racket was the building used as "Ma Bailey's Boarding House" in It's a Wonderful Life. I've highlighted in purple details on the windows and the front porch columns on the screenshot from The Racket and on the image from It's a Wonderful Life so you can see how the two match up. By the way, if you have not visited the Retro Web site I recommend jumping on over. They have numerous images of different Los Angeles area studio buildings and other fun stuff to check out.

Mitchum leaves a house on the RKO Encino Ranch.


Mitchum stands inside a house located on the RKO Encino Ranch.

The RKO Encino Ranch was bounded by Burbank Boulevard to the South, Louise Ave to the West, Oxnard Street to the North and stopped at where the Balboa Park begins, just before Balboa Boulevard to the East. Below is a vintage aerial view of the RKO Encino Ranch showing where the residential neighborhood used for the scene where the bomb goes off in The Racket and where It's a Wonderful Life were both filmed. The purple box in the next three images shows the exact area where this part of the ranch set was located. 1) Vintage aerial of RKO Encino Ranch sets, 2) Vintage 1952 aerial view of Encino (see purple box for RKO ranch, and 3) an aerial view of Encino from 2013 (purple box outlines the former site of the RKO sets).

Aerial view of the RKO Encino Ranch.

Vintage 1952 aerial view of the ranch.

A contemporary view marking the site of the former RKO Encino Ranch.

CULVER CITY

Near the end of the film there is a chase scene between the police and Ryan who is attempting to get away. The chase cuts right through the heart of Culver City. You can tell I've forced my wife to sit through a lot of old movies because even she yelled out during the scene below, "that looks like the Culver Hotel." And indeed it is the historic Culver Hotel located at 9400 Culver Boulevard.

During the chase the cars race down the part of the street between the Culver Hotel and what is today a Pacific Theatre and then continues pass the site of the historic Culver Studios. The stretch of street between the Culver Hotel and the Pacific Theatre is now closed off to traffic but it is still open in the area in front of The Culver Studios.

The Culver Hotel in Culver City. 9400 Culver Blvd.

Looking east down Culver Blvd towards the Culver Hotel. Source.

Buildings located across from Culver Hotel, between Van Buren Place and the Culver Studios.

New buildings stand in the place of the ones that were once located across from the Culver Hotel.

Today, directly across from The Culver Studios is the location of a large parking lot. When The Racket was filmed we can see that there used to be many different commercial buildings that once stood at this location. In the next three images we see: 1) screenshot from The Racket showing the Chop Suey restaurant, liquor store and other buildings that used to be located on the site of the parking lot, 2) a vintage view from the LAPL showing the same buildings (but looking the opposite direction towards the Culver Hotel), and 3) a 2013 view showing the parking lot where the buildings seen in The Racket once stood.

Buildings located across the street from the Culver Studios.

A vintage view of buildings across from the Culver Studios. This view looks west towards the Culver Hotel. Photo: LAPL

The buildings across the Culver Studios and the Culver Hotel are now demolished and is the site of a parking lot.

Aerial view of the Culver City chase scene location.

The above aerial view shows the location of the chase scene through Culver City. The bright yellow arrow marks the path that the cars take when they pass The Culver Hotel and The Culver Studios. The orange box marks the parking lot where the Chop Suey restaurant and liquor store once stood. 

To use a baseball expression, The Racket may not be a grand slam, but it at least pounds a double with Mitchum and Ryan heading the picture. The great locations make the film all the more enjoyable to watch. The Racket is available on DVD, can be rented through ClassicFlix and Netflix, and is currently available for streaming on Warner Archive Instant.

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